CR: 89th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide – Rep. Schiff

[Congressional Record: April 27, 2004 (House)]
[Page H2397-H2398]
>From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []

{time} 1945


The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Burgess). Under a previous order of the
House, the gentleman from California (Mr. Schiff) is recognized for 5
minutes. Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the one and a
half million Armenians who perished in the Armenian genocide that
began 89 years ago on April 24, 1915. I consider this a sacred
obligation, to ensure that future generations of Americans remember
the first genocide of the 20th century and to ensure that the men,
women and children who perished at the hands of the Ottoman Empire are
not lost to history. We have always recognized the transience of
memory. It is why we set aside holidays and build monuments to honor
our heroes and the events that have shaped our societies. The stone
and concrete of a memorial serve to freeze history and to preserve it
for those who will follow. The written word cannot be burned when it
is etched into rock. Time is the ally of those who would deny or
change history. Such has it been with the government of Turkey and the
Armenian genocide. Although the genocide was perpetrated by modern
Turkey’s predecessor, generations of Turkish leaders have steadfastly
denied that the genocide ever took place, despite overwhelming
evidence to the contrary. Time is on their side. The generation of
Armenians with direct memory of the genocide is gone. Their children
are aging. Much of the rest of the world has moved on, reluctant to
dredge up unpleasant memories and risk the ire of modern Turkey. For
those of us who care deeply about the issue, we must redouble our
efforts to ensure that our Nation, which has championed liberty and
human rights throughout its history, is not complicit in Ankara’s
effort to obfuscate what happened between 1915 and 1923. Worse still,
by tacitly siding with those who would deny the Armenian genocide, we
have rendered hollow our commitment to never again let genocide occur.
Among historians there is no dispute that what happened to the
Armenian people was genocide. Thousands of pages of documents sit in
our National Archives. Newspapers of the day were replete with stories
about the murder of Armenians. Appeal to Turkey to stop massacres
headlined the New York Times on April 28, 1915, just as the killing
began. On October 7 of that year, the Times reported that 800,000
Armenians had been slain in cold blood in Asia Minor. In mid-December
of 1915, the Times spoke of a million Armenians killed or in exile.
Prominent citizens of the day, including America’s ambassador to the
Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, and Britain’s Lord Bryce reported on
the massacres in great detail. Morgenthau was appalled at what he
would later call the sadistic orgies of rape, torture, and
murder. Lord Bryce, a former British ambassador to the United States,
worked to raise awareness of and money for the victims of what he
called the most colossal crime in the history of the world. In October
1915, the Rockefeller Foundation contributed $30,000, a sum worth more
than half a million dollars today, to a relief fund for Armenia.
Others, too, reacted in horror to what Ambassador Morgenthau called,
for lack of a specific term, race murder. In the early 1930s, 10 years
after the genocide, a young Polish attorney named Raphael Lemkin, who
had read of the genocide as a child, tried to get European statesmen
to criminalize the destruction of ethnic and religious groups. He was
dismissed as an alarmist. A few years later, when Hitler invaded
Poland, Lemkin lost 49 members of his family in the Holocaust. Lemkin
escaped, first to Sweden, where he documented the horrors going on in
Nazi-occupied Europe and then to the United States, where he worked
for the Allied war effort. He resolved to create a word to convey the
mass atrocities being committed by the Germans. In 1944, while working
for the U.S. War Department, he coined the term “genocide,” citing
the slaughter of Armenians three decades earlier. In 1948, in the
shadow of the Holocaust, the international community responded to Nazi
Germany’s methodically orchestrated acts of genocide by approving the
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide. It confirms that genocide

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is a crime under international law and defines genocide as actions
committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or
religious group. The United States, under President Truman, was the
first Nation to sign the convention. Last year marked the 15th
anniversary of President Reagan’s signing of the Genocide Convention
Implementation Act. Just over a year ago, I introduced H.R. 193 with
my colleague, the gentleman from California (Mr. Radanovich), with the
gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pallone), with the gentleman from
Michigan (Mr. Knollenberg), and other Members of this House. This
resolution reaffirms the support of the Congress for the genocide
convention and commemorates the anniversary of our becoming a party to
this landmark legislation. On May 21 of last year, we achieved a huge
victory when we passed the genocide resolution by a very strong
bipartisan vote. This should be an easy resolution for all of us now
to support on the House floor. Genocide is the most abhorrent crime
known to humankind; and unfortunately, it still exists. Exactly 10
years ago, before the cameras of the world, Rwanda’s majority Hutus
exterminated over 500,000 Tutsi in just over 3 months’ time, mostly
with machetes and homemade axes. The reason that we have not yet
succeeded in passing this resolution on the House floor is simple. The
government of Turkey refuses to acknowledge the genocide and the
strongest Nation on Earth fears their reaction if we do. All over the
globe–from South Africa, to Argentina, to the former Yugoslavia,
governments have set up truth commissions and other bodies to
investigate atrocities. Nowhere has this process been more extensive
than in Germany, which has engaged in decades of soul-searching and
good works that have not only restored the nation’s standing, but also
its moral authority. I call upon the government of Turkey and our own
government to do the same. When the burden of the past is lifted, then
the future is brighter. As long as Ankara engages in prevarication,
equivocation and evasion, Turkey will exist under a cloud–not because
of its past, but because of its refusal to address that past. And as
long as we fail to do our duty in this country, in this Congress, we
do not live up to our great name and our great heritage. I also call
upon the distinguished Speaker of the House to allow us to vote on the
Genocide Resolution. One hundred ten of my colleagues have cosponsored
this resolution and I expect that it would pass overwhelmingly if
given the chance, but we must do it soon, for with each year the
events of 1915-1923 recede a bit more into the dark of history. Time,
Mr. Speaker, is not on our side. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent
for 1 additional minute. The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair cannot
recognize that unanimous consent request. The gentleman’s time has